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GAYPOST: Toronto’s Downtown Gays vs. Toronto’s Uptown Gays

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who accused me, and not for the first time, of being a “downtown gay.”

This label wouldn’t bother me – after all, I live fairly close to the Village and am in a relationship with another man — but it seemed to be loaded with judgment.  As I thought about where this judgment was coming from, I remembered my own mindset from when I lived, for many years, in the Yonge-Lawrence neighbourhood.

  • Related: 12 reasons you know you are a Toronto gay

Living uptown, I believed (perhaps subconsciously) that somehow I was better than those who lived in and around the Village.  I had a clear image in my mind of what I thought these gays were like, a caricature of the negative stereotypes surrounding gay men.  I, on the other hand, felt I was somehow holding on to more of my masculinity than they were by choosing to be outside that world, venturing in on occasion but never truly being a part of it.

I think this notion came from a part of me that deep down inside still felt unhappy to be gay; a part that felt being gay was something that would prevent me from being a man.  Of course, years later I’d realize that there is a big difference between sexuality and masculinity.

I’m certainly not accusing my friend as being a self-loathing homo, but in my conversation with him he made it clear that he saw me as “immersed” in the Village and that he, on the other hand, doesn’t “fit in with the downtown gays” and lives in a “different world” from me.

This judgment of the entire gay populous living below Bloor saddens me.  We, as gay people, have fought hard to prove to the rest of the world that we can take many forms — masculine rugby players, lithe go-go dancers, and everything in between – and that one little part of our lives is not what defines us individually.

Yet here is my friend, categorizing an entire group of gay people as a group of people he definitely wouldn’t fit in with; a snap judgment based solely on their location.  And he’s not alone in this outlook of Uptown Gays vs. Downtown Gays.  However, as an uptown- gay-cum-downtown-gay, I can tell you what has changed for me in my venture to the dark side.

I can now walk to the Eaton Centre, I seldom have to cab it home after the bar, and yes – I do now find it a pain in the ass to meet you for a drink at Jack Astor’s on Don Mills.  Apart from that, pretty much everything else is still the same about me and I didn’t magically end up with high heels and a coke problem by moving close to the Village.

So go ahead, call me a downtown gay, because that’s what I am.  But if I hear you say it in a way that suggests you think you’re somehow better than me, I will fill a sock with all the change I’ve saved from rarely having to use the TTC and I’ll hit you with it.

 

Follow Simon on Twitter: @ScottishGuy

10 questions with Barbie Jo Bontemps

Barbie Jo Bontemps isn’t a name you might recognize just yet, but probably one you should jot down and put in with your takeout menus, because this bitch delivers the good stuff so regularly you’d think her name was Papa John’s.

A fiery redhead (most days) with a sassy streak and a love for island beats, she’s been making waves on Church Street with her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.

Right now she is one of the rising stars showcased on Sunday nights as a part of this summer’s Crews and Tangos Drag Race, bumping shoulders with village favourites Heroine Marks, Daytona Bitch, and Ivory Towers.

Last night was Week 3 of the competition and Barb found herself in the bottom two up for elimination and worked her way back into the judge’s good books with a riveting rendition of Madonna’s Like a Virgin.

We caught of with Barbie Jo, or BJ as she’s known to fans and lovers, for ten questions about drag, music, dance, and style.

TRAV: What inspired you to try drag for the first time?

BJ: I used to live with a bunch of party animals and we used to have awesome theme parties (insert Mean Girls quote). For Halloween, however, my roommate Amanda and I decided to do our opposite-sex-white-trash-alter-egos. I had such a good time expressing myself from a different perspective I did it a couple more times. Then I heard about Sharon Needles and got RuPaul obsessed. I learned what professional drag make-up looked like and I became increasingly obsessed with painting my own face. It’s a slippery slope from that point on, and here I am in Crews & Tangos Drag Race — pwning n00bs.

 

TRAV: Is there any specific type of music that really gets you going?

BJ: I love most music. My favourite radio program is Dos Mundos on CIUT FM, every Wednesday at 6pm you can hear serious Latin/electronic fusion beats bumpin’ from my apartment. I really love dancehall music though — I know, you’re thinking: “This white-boy, gay, drag queen likes DANCEHALL!??!” Yes, yes I do! I just love how the riddims make my body want to move. I love anything Caribbean or Spanish related mostly. Basically, I was born in the wrong country.

 

TRAV: What song have you picked as your personal summer anthem this year?

BJ: It’s a tough call for me… I’ll pick three!
“Live it up” – J Lo feat. Pitbull
“Ooh la la” – Britney Spears
“Same Love” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — just because this is a real conscious ting!

 

TRAV: What is your most embarrassing drag moment?

BJ: Oh my. I’ve had so many. If you know me, you know I’m a giant klutz. Probably my most embarrassing drag moment was when I hosted Gay Trivia at O’Grady’s for my darling friend and sister Gina Hamilton. I was on the microphone at the front of the bar running my jokes. I remember I made a particularly crappy joke and as I was backing up nervously I caught my heel on the cord and careened backward into the wall. I finally landed on top of the speaker. Thankfully the majority of the people in the room were my friends and we just laughed about it.

 

TRAV: You’re a redhead, why do you think there are relatively few redheaded drag queens?

BJ: I am not sure! You know, I have branched out since my earlier days. Outside of the redhead family I now own: purple, turquoise, hot pink & black, electric blue & black, etc. The list, in just six months, is so long. I guess there are such few redheaded drag queens because they can’t pull it off? Maybe they’re afraid of losing their souls? Maybe they’re just not as skanky as I am. It’s really hard to tell.

TRAV: If you could spend the night with any celebrity, living or dead, who would it be and why?

BJ: Spend the night? You mean, like, they’ll sleepover? No, I don’t do that. Get it and get out.
Totes jokes, yo. I guess I’d pick Tahmoh Penikett. He was Helo on Battlestar Galactica and he’s Canadian. Tall and a total dream boat. I could say a couple more things about him, but I’ll let the readers do some research. I bet he’s packin’ some serious heat. Meoooow.

 

TRAV: Who are your top three Toronto drag influences & idols?

BJ: Drag idols/favourite performer, hmm, it’s so hard to choose here in Toronto! There are so many talented professionals. Each drag queen, like each person or set of fingerprints is totally unique. Though I am a total softy for certain queens. I’m choosing four. Deal with it. I adore the fiery and fierce performances of Vitality Black. If you haven’t seen this queen’s tricks go see them! As for pure elegance personified — it’s Farra N Hyte all the way. Careful though, bitch has bite. If you like large-scale, supremely choreographed, audio/visual spectacles: Sofonda Cox is your girl. Don’t be givin’ her no tequila, though. And my fourth (’cause I have to) — is Devine Darlin. Beautiful, intelligent, and sickeningly talented she sets the stage ablaze.

Honourable Mentions: Tynomi Banks (Let’s have a vogue off), Scarlett Bobo (That knee slide? Shoot me.), Nancy Bocock (I love when you eat an entire Deep and Delicious cake on stage). If you weren’t mentioned #sorryboutit.

 

TRAV: How did it feel to be in the bottom set last night?

BJ: Horrendous! I did not feel that Nancy [Bocock] and I deserved to be there. We worked really hard on our numbers and we practiced our staging for 3 days in a row. We painted each other beautifully — I even painted her better than myself. I honestly wanted to cry. I put so much effort and thought into what I do, that it doesn’t feel good to be the bottom. In that case at least. But, I untucked my nuts (figuratively) and demolished the Lipsync for Your Livelihood. I definitely wasn’t going home. No way no how.

 

TRAV: What is more important to a drag queen, confidence or talent?

BJ: That’s an odd question. Talent as a queen can mean a lot of different things: comedic talent, dance talent, make-up talent, quick wit, etc. And as we all know, or hopefully know, confidence is a key to success. Ultimately, I’d have to say confidence is most important. If you can’t sell what you’re doing, ain’t nobody gonna be buyin’ it.

 

TRAV: Where do you see your drag future taking you?

BJ: No idea. I’d like to keep doing it! At least maybe get paid to do it once and a while so I can continue to afford the make-up, hair, and, costumes. It’s something I’d like to explore in different ways. I’d love for drag to become more prevalent in our city. For it to be something accepted by all communities as a legitimate form of performance. I’m definitely going to be bringing some live singing to the stage at some point – just gotta get my Toni voice back. Most importantly, I hope my relationship with drag continues to be enjoyable and fun! It’s a great sisterhood and I love being part of it.

Viva la drag! Viva la Beej!

 

Come out and support BJ and discover Toronto’s latest cohort of drag talent this summer on Sundays at 9p.m. at Crews and Tangos!

 

You can follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers and find Barbie Jo on Instagram as @BJBontemps lurking under the hashtag #trannyfaggot and on Facebook as Barbie Jo Bontemps. Additional photo credit: Angelica B.